Our favorite activities for summertime fun
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If your Summer plans lean more towards a staycation than a vacation, you’re going to want to outfit your backyard or balcony with plenty of activities to keep your kids occupied. Whether you’ve got toddlers or teenagers, you’ll find at least one item on this list that’s sure to be a hit with your offspring.
I asked all of the parents on the Reviewed team to share the backyard toys they can’t live without for summertime and beyond.
Little kids love to play in the water. Keep them occupied—and the mess contained—with the Little Tikes Spiralin' Seas Waterpark Play Table. Half of the parents here at Reviewed currently own this water table, and we all agree that it provides hours of engagement with minimal parental involvement (the gold standard for toys). It's easy to put together, and comes with a water cup and five round balls that squirt water. Kids will love dropping the balls down the spiral and turning the Ferris wheel to fish them out of the water...and then doing that over and over and over again. The Spiralin' Seas Waterpark doesn't take up a huge amount of space—it's small enough to fit on an apartment balcony—and it's not a hideous, primary-colored eyesore that will look too out of place in a fancy backyard.
Running through the sprinklers has been a favorite summer activity for many generations, but the Melissa & Doug Sunny Patch Blossom Bright Sprinkler takes this classic outdoor entertainment to the next level. Simply attach the colorful flower bouquet to a garden hose, and let the kids frolic to their heart's delight. The spray height can be elevated or lowered simply by adjusting the water pressure. One helpful tip comes from Smart Home Writer, Rachel Murphy, who says that the Blossom Bright Sprinkler needs to be kept clean or it will grow mold.
Get your older kids outside—and off of their devices—with the Lifetime Portable Basketball System. One of the best features of this basketball hoop is that the height can be raised or lowered, making it a more-than-just-one-season toy. The base is portable (it has wheels) so that it can easily be moved around even once it's full of sand. Concerned that it won't stand up to your destined-for-the-Lakers kid? The classic rim, all-weather net, and shatterproof backboard can withstand most of the toughest dunks. Sunil Doshi, our VP of Development, and dad of two boys, says that their Lifetime Portable Basketball System is still going strong after two years and lots of games.
It's pretty much a guarantee that little kids will spill bubbles everywhere, which is why they are an "outside only" toy at my house. My children's love for bubbles knows no bounds, so we're constantly on the hunt for bubble toys that don't break after just one use. The WOWmazing Giant Bubble Wands Kit has been a huge (pun intended) hit at our house, because it really works and the kids can do it themselves—though they do end up pretty soapy. It comes with everything your kids need to make ginormous bubbles: a giant bubble maker, a pouch of WOWmazing Bubble Concentrate, and a little tips booklet to help you create outstanding large bubbles.
Have a kid who likes to kick a ball around? Encourage her soccer habit from a young age with an AmazonBasics Pop Up Goal set. The colorful, portable goals come in three sizes: 2.5 feet, 4 feet, and 6 feet, and they easily unfold with a simple twist. TJ Donegan, Executive Editor of Core Content, is a die-hard fan; he's told me I need to buy these at least six times. Donegan says, "they are great for small soccer games and for working on passing skills. They're also perfect for just making up other games besides soccer. Have them invent their own rules."
If you're going minimalist this year, and planning to give your kids one of those 1970's summer experiences, you'll want to stock up on sidewalk chalk. I'm partial to Urban Infant Non-Toxic Sidewalk Chalk, because you don't have to freak out if one of your kids takes a bite (or three) of the chalk. The colors are really vibrant, and the sticks of chalk are more durable than the average brand, which means that they don't break as easily when they're (inevitably) dropped. The chalk also comes with a little booklet of hopscotch variations from around the world, which my kids have really enjoyed.
While it's not technically a toy, the Little Snowie 2 Shaved Ice Machine is by far one of the best things I got for the kids this summer. We've always had a shave ice machine of one type or another, but the Little Snowie is the only one we've found that the kids can actually operate themselves. It makes the smoothest shaved ice, and the design of the machine creates a perfectly rounded shape, just like one would find in Hawaii. A few sample-size flavors are included, but you can also make your own if you prefer something healthier. I'm planning to leave the Little Snowie set-up on my patio all summer so that the kids can help themselves to refreshing snacks, and I might even make myself a shave ice frosé.
Keep your baby cool during the hottest summer days with the SainSmart Jr. Kids Water Splash Mat. A wading pool and splash pad in one, all you have to do is attach the garden hose to start the fountain effect. The height of the spray can be adjusted by turning the faucet up or down. My kids spent hours in this when they were babies, and Murphy says it's vital to helping her kids beat the stifling summer heat in Florida.
Sarah Kovac, our Smart Home Editor, says her kids love a good outdoor summertime dance party. Take the tunes outside with our top-rated portable bluetooth speaker. The Anker Soundcore 2 is very simple to operate and the buttons are huge, so smaller children can easily control the volume and the playlist. Older kids can probably manage the bluetooth set-up themselves, but younger ones will need some parental assistance to get started. It's also waterproof, which is a major plus when small children are involved. Just be prepared to have to listen to your child's favorite song over and over and over again. May we suggest investing in some earplugs as well?
One of the best gifts my kids ever received was a set of Jansamn Pink and Blue Kids Walkie Talkies. They love exploring the neighborhood and talking to one another from both our backyard and our neighbors' yards. It takes a certain amount of hand-eye coordination to push the button while talking, but kids should be able to manage it by approximately age four. Be sure to keep extra batteries on hand, because kids often forget to power them down when they're done playing, but if you want a toy that will keep them busy—and engage their imagination—this is just the thing. Walkie talkies are perfect for city and suburb dwellers alike: take them to the park, or use them inside an apartment building for hours of fun during the hottest days of summer and the coldest days of winter.
Everyone loves a good game of darts, and this Doinkit Darts version is safe for all ages because it's magnetic. We have it hanging on the wall of our back patio, and the kids challenge each other to a game at least once per day. Playing darts is good for their hand-eye coordination, but it also works their math skills when they try (and usually fail) to add up their points. It's not just our kids who love it either: Whenever we host adult parties most of the guests get in on the fun, too.
If there's a Grill Master in your family that your child likes to emulate, the Melissa & Doug Wooden Rotisserie & Grill Barbecue Play Set will be a huge hit. I am partial to nice-quality wooden toys, and this cute set fits the bill. My kids have enjoyed grilling up pretend feasts, and I like that the set is not a giant plastic eyesore. It's compact and easy to store once summer ends, and the nice selection of pieces—grill tools, condiments, and a kabob—often find their way into other types of imaginative play.
Prices are accurate at the time of publication but may change over time.